Carcross Desert: The Smallest Desert In The World

On February 20, 2015 by Tim Newman


Source: bigweasel,  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

I guess it’s not the greatest of accolades is it? – The smallest desert in the world. What is impressive is that this desert is nestled in the nippy Yukon area of Canada, near(ish) to the border of Alaska. Not where you would expect to find a desert at all.

The Carcross Desert measures about 1 square mile (2.6 km2), or 640 acres. And, actually, although I hate to admit it, it’s not technically a desert, the air is too humid. Carcross is actually a series of sand dunes, but that’s no kind of title at all is it? – Carcross Desert – An Average Sized Series Of Sand Dunes. No one’s gonna click on that link.


Carcross Desert” by Hersfold (talk) (Uploads) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia.

This area of Canada, which is more used to snow than desert rats, is particularly dry thanks to protection by surrounding mountains. It only receives around 50 mm of precipitation per year which is remarkably dry when compared to Britain’s 1.2 metres per year.


The sand was formed during the last glacial period, when large glacial lakes formed and deposited silt. When the lakes dried, the dunes were left behind. Today, sand comes mainly from nearby Bennett Lake, carried by wind. Locals go sand dune surfing on it as you might expect.

The area’s odd climate has allowed it to nurture unusual plant life like Baikal sedge and Yukon lupine. Which is great if you are a botanist that lives locally I guess?

It’s not somewhere I’m particularly bothered about going to, but it’s nice when geology and meteorology gang together and pop something weird where you didn’t expect it.

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